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Full text of "What Are We Trying To Do Here?!"

collectives, shops that can take the profit that would go to pay for some 
boss's luxury items, and instead use those resources to help start more 
collectives. As the network grows in size, it can do more for its 
members, and will have a greater ability to shape local affairs. People 
seldom work as hard and as happily as when we're working for 
ourselves and those close to use, and when the work is a meaningful 
expression of our values and politics. We may not be able to change 
the world overnight, but we can help each other to change our lives. 

In the late 1800s, anarchism was a mainstream political idea among 
American workers and progressive activists. Since then, it has been 
slandered by association with senseless violence, made to seem idealist 
or crankish, pushed to the fringes. In contrast, this pamphlet has tried 
to demonstrate that anarchism is especially relevant in our time, both in 
guiding us as we formulate our aims, and in bringing us together 
around a sound foundational principle, so that we know not only what 
we are against, but also what we're fightingyor. 



contact: 

New 48er 

c/o Tom Noerper 

POB 5325 

Evanston, IL 60204 



new48er@nctscape.net 



8. 



What are we trying to do here?! 

Anarcho-syndicalism and the new anti-capitalism - 
suggestions for goals and tactics. 




1 . Introduction: Getting our bearings, clarifying our vision. 

"How can we ever get anywhere if we don't know where we're trying 
to go?" Since anti-globalization activists disrupted the World Trade 
Organization meeting in Seattle, it has been undeniable that there is a 
new anti-capitalist movement taking shape, or at least there is a new 
phase of activism. With clear goals and some agreement on strategies 
and tactics, our movement may be able to take advantage of the current 
moment in history, in which American corporate capitalism has been 
so clearly revealed to so many to be morally bankrupt; however, the 
history of radical politics in America has been one of factions and 
splinter groups, of issue-specific groups reluctant to work together. 
The anarchist perspective has a great deal to offer the anti-capitalist 



movement, because rather than prescribing specific positions on given 
issues, rather than urging a "revolutionary" program to which others 
must conform, we espouse the principle of non-coercion, a foundation 
principle which should guide all people of conscience in figuring out 
what we want for our world, and how ought to go about getting it. 



2. Common Sense for the 21 st Century: 

The failure of American democracy. 

In America, government of the people, by the people, and for the 
people has perished. Both Vincent Bugliosi (the lawyer who 
prosecuted Charles Manson) and Gregory Pallast (journalist for the 
BBC) have published books that explain clearly how the Republican 
Party and the U.S. Supreme Court subverted America's electoral 
process to put George W. Bush in the Whitehouse. Without even 
considering the unsoundness of the Supreme Court decision or the 
specifics of election fraud in Florida, anyone can see the contradiction 
in the acknowledged fact that Al Gore received more votes, but Bush 
became president. Many ordinary people have asked how this could 
have happened, in our "democratic" political system. It is our job to 
see that the discussion includes an analysis of the realities of power in 
America. 



In his presidential farewell speech in 1961, Eisenhower warned the 
nation, 

In the councils of government, we must guard against the 
acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or 
unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for 
the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. 
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our 
liberties or democratic processes. 

With Bush, Cheney and most of their cabinet coming from the 
corporate boards of petroleum companies, it has never been so clear 



5. Getting there, making the best of what's here. 

Of course, while there are a few anarchist coops and collectives out 
there, this is far from being the dominant paradigm for the American 
work place. While this was the basic organization for millions of 
Spanish workers for several years during the Spanish Revolution, 
anarcho-syndicalism is basically unknown to many anti-capitalist / 
anti-globalization activists. Even if the idea were to spread, what can 
we do in the meantime? Because of their basis in principle, both 
anarchism and syndicalism both a better way of living while still 
under capitalism, and strategies for pursuing radical activism. 

Last summer (2001) at a Chicago meeting of the Campus Greens, Jello 
Biafra (former singer for the band Dead Kemiedys) repeated what 
Malcolm X had said, but in the anti-capitalist context. He encouraged 
people to avoid buying anything retail whenever possible, and to go to 
locally-owned, "mom & pop" businesses when we must do retail 
shopping. We would also do well to set up more barter markets and 
other types of alternative economy. 

Biafra' s second suggestion was that we learn from the "Republican 
Revolution" of the 1980s and 1990s, when they were able to gain 
control the Congress and of many local administrations. The popular 
arm of the Party, the Religious Right, are a small but very active and 
very vocal minority in this society. During the Reagan years, they 
began taking control of local politics by filling up school boards, 
gaining uncontested county jobs, etc., eventually gaining enough 
control of local politics to dominate congressional elections. This is 
the kind of grassroots political machine that voided tens of thousands 
of African Americans' votes in Florida in the presidential election. 

Finally, we must ask what kind of work-life we want for ourselves. 
For some, it will make the most since to work as a wage-slave in order 
to organize others and to affect the capitalist machine. However, our 
main strategy should be to establish networks of worker-owned 



T. 



interested in building power and resources within the Black 
community. King's strategy has made achievements, while Malcolm 
X's approach has been neglected, perhaps because it threatens to 
disrupt the capitalist economy. 



4. What do we want? No more bosses, starting today! 

If anarchists reject all government as being based on force or the threat 
of force, what do we propose? We want a society founded on the 
principle of free association, not a social order based on coercion. Who 
can deny that our aim should be a society based on the principle of 
non-violence? Given the failure of the American republic, we know 
that allowing individuals or small groups to accumulate extreme 
wealth while others are needy creates a situation of economic necessity 
- a form of coercion. Also, if we consider the Soviet revolution even 
from Lenin's time, or Chinese communism, we see that communism 
without an explicit commitment to anti-authoritarianism collapses into 
totalitarianism in a way barely distinguishable from fascism. 

Guided by our principles of non-coercion in social-political relations, 
and just distribution of resources in economic relations, we might 
arrive at anarcho-syndicalism. In syndicalism, the workers own the 
shop in which they work. This contrasts with capitalism, and with 
communism as we have know it, in which the "Party," - another ruling 
elite - controls the means of production and makes all decisions. In 
anarcho-syndicalism, each single work site is owned and run by the 
people on that site. Various shops and industries are organized into 
federations, which share the common interests of feeding, clothing, and 
housing themselves. Because there is no possibility of any individual 
owning the shop and profiting from the labor of dozens or even 
hundreds of other individuals, the influence of self-interest is limited. 
The power of any individual or small group is limited because 
decision-making and resources are distributed widely across many 
people. 



that big business runs this country. How did the multi-national 
corporations become so powerful in a society supposedly based on the 
democratic ideal? 

In an anarchist analysis, we must first consider that a democratic 
republic is still a type of government. Every government rules by 
force, or the threat of force, whether it be monarchist, fascist, 
communist, socialist, or a so-called "democracy." In each case, one 
group of people makes the rules and decides how resources will be 
allocated. The second group, ordinary people, are compelled to 
participate in society according to the rules that have been set; for 
instance, through paying taxes or through a military draft. Thus, even 
in a democratic republic, a ruling class emerges who tax the public 
and then hire police to control that public. From an anarchist 
perspective, we reject democracy in principle, even when it is working 
according to the ideal. Of course, little in life follows its ideal very 
closely. How did American democracy fail in actuality, by its own 
terms? 



When the U.S. Constitution was written in 1787, it was influenced by 
two main groups. The "Jeffersonians" are usually thought of as having 
been concerned with protecting individual liberty from the powers of 
government, a view associated with Jefferson's language in the 
Declaration of Independence: 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created 
equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain 
inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the 
pursuit of happiness. 

The "Hamiltonians," after Alexander Hamilton, are thought of as 
wanting to limit taxation, to ensure that America would be a good 
place to do business. In their time, neither Hamilton nor Jefferson 

could have imagined the power of the trans-national corporation after 
the industrial revolution, at the end of the 20 th century. The U.S. 
Constitution was intended to preserve a balance of power among 



federal government, state government, and individual rights. In this 
context the corporation, with its massive concentration of wealth and 
resources, makes up a new entity unforeseen in 1787. Given the power 
structure institutionalized in the U.S. government, big business has 
been able to gain control of the affairs of the nation, defeating the 
intent that the government should administer the interests and will of 
the greatest number of people. 

What is central to this failure is the massive accumulation of wealth by 
a small elite. It is this great disparity between the wealthiest Americans 
and ordinary people that creates the tremendous power differential. 
According to the ancient Greek historian Thucydides, this was a 
problem in the Athenian democracy, as well. 



2. The failure of the left/liberal coalition to save the Republic: 
Reformist goals and tactics. 

By the second half of the 20 th Century, a liberal / left coalition had 
formed in America, somewhat in opposition to the 
corporate/conservative elite. This group, made up of trade unionists, 
pro-choice feminists, gay and lesbian activists, environmentalists, 
ethnic minorities and their advocates has failed to limit the power of 
big business and the Right Wing, has failed to hold the American 
government close to its democratic principles. What happened? 

If we think of the protest movement in the late 1960s, in the Civil 
Rights and Anti-War era, it seems that the aim of leaders such as 
Martin Luther King, Jr. was to compel the elected leaders to act in 
good conscience. Using strategies such as massive rallies and civil 
disobedience, activists expressed their intense objection to the 
government's policies, with a clearly implied threat about what might 
happen to their job in the next election. 

The problem with this "reformism" is that it did not change the 
underlying power structures that maintained racism and poverty at 



H. 



home, and imperialist policies abroad. A protest movement is a social 
phenomena that does not occur every time it is needed, and so when 
no one is looking, the bad guys go back to their dirty business. At best, 
even if there is sustained public attention and activism around an 
issue, there is still a built-in conflict between the 
corporate/conservative elite and the common good. 

Built-in conflict is also a fundamental problem with trade unions as 
we know them today. Among progressives, a great deal of energy is 
spent organizing new union locals and supporting unions in their 
"struggle" against management every time a collective bargaining 
contract expires. As Marx pointed out, whenever workers labor in a 
shop owned by some one else, we lose both the fruit of our labor, and 
control over our own lives. Current trade unions assume this horribly 
alienated situation without question, while leftist activists afflicted 
with "laborism" seem to idealize and romanticize a vision of never- 
ending struggle, in which workers are always the slaves of machines 
and bosses, always fighting for basic needs such as a "living wage" 
and health care. Certainly this describes reality for many ordinary 
Americans, and for the actual and virtual slaves in other countries who 
produce consumer goods for American markets. But, should this be 
our ideal? 



3. Doctor King and Malcolm X: Very different approaches. 

While Doctor King was organizing massive demonstrations, Malcolm 
X was advocating another kind of response to the American power 
structure. He saw that people who were neither black nor Harlem 
residents would open businesses in Harlem. The money that Black 
people spent in these businesses was taken away from the community, 
and too many resources flowed out of the community, thus 
contributing to poverty among Black people. Malcolm X repeatedly 
urged his audiences to spend their money at businesses owned by 
members of their own community. Malcolm X was not interested in 
lobbying white politicians for better welfare programs; he was 

5.